Tuesday, July 30, 2013
I met Amiable while reporting a story about a collective farm his family has helped start with a group of other African immigrants.
Friday, July 19, 2013
Here's a little interaction I witnessed the other day while reporting a separate story.
Yves Mutara missed his first bus home. The next southbound 4 wouldn’t come for another few minutes. He spent the first of those moments staring at the beard.
In three decades of living in Democratic Republic of Congo, Mutara had never seen a beard like that. The hair was wild and white and seemed to float around, rather than protrude from, the dark face wearing it.
Mutara looked down the road for the bus. No sign of it. He approached the beard.
“Excuse me,” he said. His voice was soft with a trace of the French accent he learned in Kinshasa in school. “How old are you?”
A pair of eyes lit up underneath two equally wild and white eyebrows.
“In my soul or in my physical body?” the man asked.
“Your physical body,” Mutara explained. “Because, see, when I watch you, you look young. You have energy. You are strong. But as I get closer, you look …”
“Old,” the man finished.
He laughed and introduced himself as Thimmaiah. He was 67 and studying basic English at Portland Community College’s Cascade campus. Thimmaiah was born Tadaga Doddathimmaiah in a Southern Indian town called Mysore. He's still learning to speak, he said, but that didn't slow him down. Every word seemed accompanied by its own exclamation point. His eyebrows bounced independently of each other.
Mutara, still quiet, explained he was studying business at the school.
“Why are you white hair everywhere?” Mutara asked. “Is it fashion? How do you look so good?”
“I trained for wrestling. And I never smoked. And I never did drugs. And I can teach you tiger breathing right here,” Thimmaiah said.
“I also never smoke,” Mutara said, his voice rising.
His bus stopped, let off a few passengers, then continued down North Albina Street without him. He moved here two years ago, but moments like these, where he feels he fits, are rare.
“Are you 26?” Thimmaiah said.
“That’s right, 36,” Mutara said, mishearing. “When I see you,” he told his new acquaintance, “I see the glory of God.”
“You don’t have to tell me about God,” Thimmaiah said. “He’s in my soul. I was raised Hindu, but Jesus is the energy that brought me to this country.”
They exchanged email addresses and stories of the way God had pulled them from worse situations.
“I was lost,” Mutara said. “And now I am here with you.”
Thimmaiah lunged at Mutara, grabbing him in a hug. That white hair enveloped him. They pulled apart after half a minute. Then Mutara walked to catch the bus, a strand of white hair shining out against his navy button-up.
Monday, July 15, 2013
Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Hot days are hair cut days. Darlene Robinette has spent plenty of afternoons in her Kenton barbershop, 7 Bucks a Whack, just goofing off, petting her 8-year-old peekapoo Elvis. But it seems like the whole neighborhood comes in on the days the thermometer shoots past 80.
Take Monday for instance: 90 degrees by 6 p.m. That’s normally quitting time, Robinette said. Half a dozen guys were still waiting to have their beards trimmed. She worked an hour later. Even though it was her 72nd birthday. Even though she had worn her bathing suit and a pair of waterproof shorts all day, hoping she could sneak out to Sauvie Island for a dip.
A regular came by late afternoon. Robinette had two clipper cuts waiting to be done, so he waited down the road at a Lottery machine. He reappeared half an hour later, $1,100 in hand.
“He said he’d buy me a drink at Kenton Station,” Robinette said.
A customer was still waiting at 7 p.m., but Robinette asked her to please come back the next day. That drink was waiting, “and I’d about whacked til I dropped,” Robinette said.
The narrow Kenton shop is Robinette’s third. She moved to the space 11 years ago from a space on Southeast Morrison. She misses the pompadours her Southeast customers favored, but otherwise, Kenton is perfect. She likes the library and the park, and when quitting time does, in fact, come, she can make it home to her Jantzen Beach house boat or to the water on Sauvie Island in no time flat.
She learned to cut hair from her mother in Lake Oswego in the mid 1940s. Irene Eoff had been studying to become a barber before she became pregnant with Darlene. Four other children followed, and though Eoff never finished her studies, she lined all the neighborhood kids up on weekends for a free buzz.
By the time Robinette daughter was 7, Eoff had her daughter doing perms. Eoff never had the chance to do hair for a living. She worked as a school bus driver and as a housekeeper for St. Vincent Hospital and Medical Center. When she passed away in 1994, Robinette used the inheritance to buy her first shop, a walk-in street level spot in the Clifford Apartments. She moved to the Morrisson location after the apartment building burned down in 1998.
Robinette keeps a picture of her mom hanging on a wood-block clock above the barber chair in her Kenton location.
“That way she can see what I did with the money and watch me work every day,” Robinette said.
Yelp reviewers give Robinette decent marks, in part for her ability to multi-task.
“Darlene was actually boiling potatoes while cutting my hair (in between smoke breaks),” one five-star reviewer wrote.
She doesn’t have a favorite haircut. She does it all and offers a free eyebrow trim for the $7. She prefers not to use scissors. Shears have hurt her hands ever since she broke both wrists a month before the apartment fire.
She still does perms, though she doesn’t advertise them, out of respect for the nearby beauty salons. She doesn’t keep a look book. She has something better: a magazine that shows former Mayor Sam Adams on the cover.
“I gave him this haircut,” she said. “He told me, ‘Whenever I need something special done with my hair, you’re the one.’”
Sure enough, the former mayor gave the spot a 5-star review on Yelp.
“He has a lot of cowlicks,” Robinett said. “But they can be worked with.”